The Secret World of the Unborn Child

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Childhood experiences are not the only factors that can determine our destiny. A child’s life does not begin with its birth. Because we cannot see the infant before he is born (except through ultrasound machines), it does not mean that he has no links to the outside world. Although the unborn child lives in a world of his own, he is still most profoundly influenced by everything that happens around him, especially the thoughts, feeling and actions of his parents. Research has shown that a fetus can lead an active emotional life from the sixth month, if not earlier. He is able to feel and can even see, hear, taste, experience and learn while in the womb. The feelings that he has during his stay in his mother’s womb depend largely on how he deals with the messages that he receives mostly from the mother, but also from the father and the environment.

Bonding begins before birth

An anxiety-ridden mother, who is constantly worried about making mistakes or who suffers from other forms of emotional imbalance, can leave a deep scar on the personality of the developing fetus. Likewise, a self-assured and confident mother instills in him a deep sense of content and security. These or similar initial emotional imprints shape a person’s attitudes and expectations and can ultimately create a personality that acts them out either as shyness, anxiety and aggression, or self-confidence, optimism and happiness. Contrary to common understanding but discovered by recent research, the father’s feelings towards his wife and the unborn child play one of the most important roles in determining the success of a pregnancy. There is strong evidence that a father who bonds with his child while he is still in the womb can make a big emotional difference to his well-being. A newborn baby can recognize his father’s voice in the first one or two hours after birth and respond to it emotionally, provided the father had been talking to the child during the pregnancy. The soothing, familiar tone of his voice, for example, is able to stop the child from crying, indicating that he feels protected and safe.

It is common knowledge that a mother’s dietary habits can influence the growing fetus, too. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol have proved to cause irreversible damage to a growing fetus. A series of precise experiments have demonstrated that the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of parents (particularly those of the mother) can assert an even greater influence on the unborn child.

There is much speculation about exactly when the unborn child begins to recognize and respond to these external stimuli, but this seems secondary. What is more important is that human life begins in the womb and is shaped by all its experiences during the gestation period (the nine months in the womb). Studies have shown that the heartbeat of an unborn child quickened every time his mother thought of smoking a cigarette. Without lighting up or picking up a cigarette, the mother’s thought caused an instant adrenaline response by the fetus in anticipation of a dreaded oxygen decline in his and his mother’s blood. This stress response made his heart beat faster. The mother’s desire to smoke may also be linked to a sense of uncertainty, nervousness and fear within her. While she translates these emotions into the corresponding chemical compounds in her brain, the same emotional responses are triggered also in the fetus. This situation can eventually predispose the unborn child towards deep-seated nervousness and anxiety later in life.

Rhythms of Happiness

Maternal emotions of anxiety have repeatedly been shown to cause exaggerated fetal activity. Researchers were able to demonstrate that the most active fetuses would one day become the most anxious youngsters. They would become abnormally shy and shield themselves away from teachers, from schoolmates, from forming friendships and from all human contact. It is most likely that the youngsters will remain inhibited and shy even in their thirties and through to old age unless they find a way to correct the initial emotional imbalance from fetus-hood.

The rhythms and tone of its mother’s voice also influence the unborn child. The fetus moves his body rhythm to harmonize with his mother’s unique rhythms of speech. He also responds to sounds and melody from a source other than his mother. Agitated unborn children calm down when they listen to calming music such as Vivaldi. Beethoven, on the other hand makes them kick and move around more, as do sounds made by yelling parents. Pregnant musicians have even ‘taught’ their fetuses intricate musical pieces. From a certain age, the children were able to play the music by heart without ever having heard it before, except whilst they were in the mother’s womb. Other children were found to repeat words or phrases, which the mother had used only during pregnancy. One child grew up speaking a foreign language that the mother had used during her pregnancy while working in a foreign country but had stopped using after giving birth.

The maternal heartbeat is one of the most powerful means to keep the growing fetus happy and attuned to the outside world. The steady pace of her heartbeat reassures him that all is well. He can ‘read’ the mother’s emotional states through the changing rhythms of her heart. During the gestation period, the fetus senses the comforting maternal heartbeat as his main source of life, safety, and love. The emotional value attached to heartbeat was confirmed by a study that used a tape-recorded human heartbeat being played to a nursery filled with newborn babies. To the astonishment of the researchers, the babies who were exposed to the sounds of heartbeat ate more, weighed more, slept more, breathed better, cried less and were less sick than those who were deprived of the rhythmic sound of a heart. Of course, in natural settings, babies would never be separated from their mothers after birth and therefore would continue feeling their mother’s heartbeat.

‘Cot death’ is a phenomenon that occurs almost only among babies who have been kept apart from their mothers after birth (another major risk factor is cigarette smoke in the babies’ environment). Such babies feel abandoned by their mothers and are unable to sustain their vital functions without feeling and hearing her heartbeat. Most babies survive this dramatic measure of separation from the mother but may be left with emotional scars that show up as low self-esteem, weakness and anxiety later in life. By contrast, the babies who stay with their mothers most of the time feel wanted and loved right from the first moments of life. They are much less likely to have a reason for feeling insecure when they grow older. Their personalities will be friendly, confident, optimistic and extrovert.

Mixed Messages

A fetus may be strongly influenced by stressful events that occur in the mother’s life. The resulting release of stress hormones can trigger similar emotional responses in the fetus as those felt by the mother. However, if she feels unconditional love for her baby and believes that nothing else is as important to her as her growing child, then the baby will feel safe and protected. A major German study on 2,000 pregnant women concluded that the children of mothers who looked forward to having a baby were much healthier, both mentally and physically, at birth and afterwards, than those born to mothers who did not really want a child. Another study conducted at the University of Salzburg in Austria procured results that are even more stunning. Psychological tests revealed that the mothers who wanted their unborn children both consciously and unconsciously had the easiest pregnancies, the most uncomplicated births, and the healthiest offspring – physically and emotionally. The group of mothers who had a negative attitude to their unborn children had the most serious medical complications during pregnancy, and bore the highest rate of premature, low-weight and emotionally disturbed infants.

Many pregnant women give mixed messages to their babies. They often would like to have a child but do not want to give up their career. These unborn children are often apathetic and lethargic after they are born. A woman’s relationship with her husband or partner is the second most influential factor in determining infant outcome. A recent study that involved over 1,300 children and their families showed that women who feel they are locked in a stormy marriage have a 237 percent higher risk of giving birth to a psychologically or physically abnormal child. Children who feel loved while in the womb have every good reason to give trust and love when they are living in the outer world. They generally develop a deep bond with their parents and have little or no tendency to become affiliated or involved with problematic personalities during their lives.

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